The butterfly wanted to have a sweetheart; naturally, he wanted one for himself that was a pretty little flower. He gazed at them – each one sat so still and sedate on its stem as a maiden should when she is not engaged, but there were so many to choose between that it would be a tiresome process and that the butterfly wasn’t interested in, so it flew over to the ox-eye daisy. This flower the French call Marguerite, they know she can foretell the future, and she does so too when a sweetheart picks one petal after the other off her, each time asking if the object of his affection loves him ‘with all her heart’ – ‘no single part’ – ‘a little’ – ‘a lot’ – ‘a teeny bit’ – ‘not one whit’ – or something similar. Each sweetheart in the appropriate language. The butterfly also came in order to ask; he didn’t nip off the petals but kissed each and every one, since he believed that being kind-hearted pays off best.
‘Dear Marguerite Ox-Eye!’ he said, ‘You are the wisest woman of all the flowers! You can foretell the future! Tell me, will I get this one or that? And who will it be? Once I know, I can fly straight over and propose!’
But Marguerite gave no reply whatsoever. She didn’t like being called a woman, for she was still a maiden, which isn’t the same thing as a woman. He asked a second time and he asked a third, and when he couldn’t get a single word out of her, he couldn’t be bothered to ask any more, but immediately flew off to start his courting.
It was early spring, with snowdrops and crocuses everywhere. ‘They are very pretty!’ the butterfly said, ‘dainty young creatures! but a bit uninspiring.’ Like all strapping young men, he had an eye for older girls. Then he flew over to the anemones; he found them a bit too tart; the violets a bit too soulful; the tulips too ostentatious; the narcissi too bourgeois; the lime blossom too small – besides which they had so many kith and kin; the apple blossoms were admittedly like roses to look at, but they came out one day and fell off the next, just as the wind blew – and that was too short a marriage, in his opinion. The sweet pea was the one that pleased him most, it was red and white, it was delightful and delectable, belonged to the domestic category of girls who look nice but are also useful in the kitchen; he was just about to propose to her, but at that very moment he saw close by a pea-pod with a withered flower at its tip. ‘Who is that?’ he asked. ‘That’s my sister,’ the sweet pea replied.
‘Oh, so that’s what you’ll end up looking like!’ That frightened the butterfly, and off he flew.
The honeysuckle hung over the fence; it was a profusion of spinsters, long in the face and sallow of complexion – he didn’t fancy that type at all. Well, what did he fancy then? Ask him.
Spring passed, summer passed and autumn came; he was no closer than before. And the flowers decked themselves in their best finery, but what help was that – there was no fresh, fragrant youthful disposition here any more. For it is precisely fragrance that the heart craves with advancing age, and there’s not much in the way of fragrance in dahlias and hollyhocks. So the butterfly flew down to the curled mint.
‘It hasn’t a single flower, but it is a whole flower in itself, is fragrance from root to top, has flower scent in every petal. She’s the one for me!’ And so at last he proposed.
But the curled mint stood there, stiff and still, and finally it said: ‘Friendship, but nothing more than that! I’m old and you are old! we can certainly live for each other, but marry? No! let’s not make fools of ourselves in our old age!’
So the butterfly never got a wife. He had searched for too long – and that one simply must not do. The butterfly became an old bachelor, as people say.
It was now late in the autumn, with rain and blustery weather; the wind blew cold down the backs of the old willow trees and made them groan. It was not a good idea to fly around in summer clothes in search of love, not if he loved his health; but the butterfly didn’t fly around either, by chance he had come indoors, where there was a lit stove – it was really as warm as in summer – there he could live, but ‘living is not enough!’ he said to himself, ‘one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower!’
And he flew over to the window pane, was seen, admired and ended up pinned in a case of curios – nothing more than that could be done for him. ‘Now I’m on a stalk, just like the flowers!’ the butterfly said; ‘Though it’s not particularly comfortable! It’s a bit like being married, one’s stuck with it!’ and he consoled himself with that.
‘Pretty poor consolation that it!’ the pot-flowers in the living room said. ‘But you can ever quite believe pot-flowers,’ the butterfly said to himself, ‘they have too much contact with humans!’